Continuity In Education: Is COVID-19 really the challenge?

May 5, 2020 Arush Dhawan

Imagine the following:
A professor is teaching Fluid Mechanics to a class of 40 students. Few of them are listening, while others are trying to stay up. All those missing out have a backup plan of going through the notes and past year question paper night before the exam, to get desired marks in the exam. This has worked well in the past and will continue to do so in future also.

Seems like ages, when we were in such a setting. None of us had imagined that things could change so quickly. In this new normal, struggle of waking up every day and ensuring you reach class on time has been replaced by ensuring your internet, headphone, microphone and webcam are all working fine for your online class the next day. Faculties are now struggling to engage with the students in classes and ensuring attendance in the new era of e-learning. Is it something really new? Was n’t engagement a challenge in pre-Covid-19 world as well? Was n’t attendance, or rather lack of it, used to be the biggest bone of contention between any faculty and a student? What has changed then in the last month or so?

Many industries are seeing clear trends of growth - positive or negative. We know the hospitality industry has been the worst hit, while healthcare is seeing and will continue to see higher investments. For education, it has been a mixed bag so far. E-learning companies have got a boost, however, uncertainties around admissions and exams in schools/colleges are playing spoilsport. Let us discuss about two challenges everyone is facing and what needs to be done to resolve them:
•    Engagement in Online Classes
•    Malpractices during Online Examination ( Semester/ Admissions)

1.    Engagement in Online Classes : 

Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn
- Benjamin Franklin

Lately, you would have come across multiple webinars, blogs around challenges being faced by faculties in teaching online. The two major ones I frequently hear are - attendance and engagement in class. While I am a strong believer of human contact and in-person classes, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Most of the colleges are adopting to online classes to complete their syllabus, however,  it is difficult (initially atleast) to replicate the class experience in online mode.  However, I slightly differ on the engagement and attendance challenges. The problem is a lot deeper than just online vs in-person pedagogy.

We have observed these challenges before Corona as well. I feel, and many people may not agree with this, the problem lies in the transactional nature of our education system. A teacher’s intent, because of other responsibilities, is to complete the syllabus on time and a student just wants to get reasonable grades as learning is not valued. This emotional disconnect is what makes a student disengaged. I can confidently say from my personal experience that  wherever I felt emotionally connected to the course content, faculty, teaching style my learning and grades automatically improved.

What needs to be done?
My ask/request/suggestion to all the students and faculties - while everyone is appealing to the logical side of our brain, it’s time we started building an emotional connect  as well. Someone has rightly mentioned - Caring about student beyond the boundaries of classroom is the first step of sparking engagement. Students should show the intent of learning to faculties and faculties should act as a guide/ torchbearer to students by making themselves available beyond academics as well.

2.    Malpractices during Online Examinations :
The other hot debate these days is around conducting exams online. While some are in favor and feel online exams and classes are the way forward, others are worried about malpractices, cheating and infrastructure issues while conducting exams. I agree with both school of thoughts here. We have to adapt to this new normal and should look conduct all our exams online. We all agree that this generation is an Online generation, they feel comfortable typing rather than writing on paper. While over the past few years, we have seen both admission and placement exams move online, movement of semester exams has been very slow. The concerns around students cheating in exams are valid and online tools have been able to put them to rest to a large extent, but similar to classes I feel some changes are required in our examination philosophy as well. Our current exam format is designed to test student’s knowledge than intelligence and hence students are able to get better grades by cheating in exams.

What needs to be done?
Can we change this format so that students also feel more inclined towards understanding things rather than just remembering them for the exam? This will help do away the fears of cheating during exams and more than that will make students more skilled/employable. Exam format should be such that learning is valued more than grades.

This is the right time to take things online and ensure student careers do not take a hit because of current challenges.

Few suggestions for colleges and faculties to adopt to new normal:
•    Colleges/Faculties should adopt new technologies as soon as possible for both classes and exams
•    Teaching Content should be  revised to make it more suitable for online learning - more of interactive content (video, chats) less of slides/decks
•    Reduced duration, Long exams will have to make way for short MCQ based quizzes, essay type theoretical questions will have to be replaced by learning-oriented questions

As is rightly said, we should never let a crisis go to waste. Corona may have brought the world economy to its knees, however despite the challenges it could prove to be a silver lining for our education system. We were taking certain measures, however, the rate of adoption was slow, let this desperate situation force us to increase the pace exponentially.

Re-Imagine the above scenario

A professor is teaching a class of 40 students, all present in different locations. Students and professors are interacting extensively using the chat function in the online classroom tool. All students are engaged in the class as they love the subject and the faculty because they are being taught things that they will use in their professional/personal lives. How do they know this? Their Faculty has been mentoring them and helping them chose the right path.

This is the kind of classroom every faculty and student would like to be a part of. Let us ensure we take steps in this direction and ensure coming generations thank Covid-19, for it ensured a complete overhaul in our education system.

Stay home, stay safe and ensure we make the maximum out of this crisis.

Published on 2020/05/05

Disclaimer: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures, and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases, Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage visitors to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and underwriter determinations.

About the Author

Arush Dhawan

Arush Dhawan is the National Lead – Institutions at Aon's Assessment Solutions. He is an expert in providing employability solutions to colleges and has a deep understanding of online assessments, recruitment, talent & human resource technology. He and his team are working on bridging job-skill gap and providing #equalopportunity to candidates by providing solutions from admissions to placements.

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